We can all attest that sleep is a vital process that every human being needs to maintain their physical and mental health, and their well-being. When we get a good night’s rest, we feel rested and rejuvenated — ready to face the day and whatever challenges it throws at us.
Of the different stages of sleep, the importance of REM sleep is essential for several reasons, bringing us out of deep sleep and into our waking state.
What is REM Sleep?
REM sleep is one of the four stages of sleep that a person goes through during the night. As we move through the first two light sleep cycles, we enter deep sleep, where our body experiences physical repair and a boosted immune system.
This prepares us for the last, final sleep stage: REM sleep. REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movement (hence the abbreviation REM), increased brain activity and vivid dreaming. During REM sleep, the brain is highly active, and this is believed to be the reason why we experience dreams during this stage. During REM sleep, the body is paralyzed, and the muscles are relaxed. This paralysis prevents us from acting out our dreams and keeps us from physically harming ourselves. Because the brain is very active during this stage, it’s believed to be responsible for memory consolidation and learning.
Why is REM Sleep So Important?
Have you ever woken from a deep sleep to feel cognitively disoriented? And, if we don’t go back to sleep after being woken from stage 3 sleep, those are the days of feeling fatigued, foggy, sleep deprived — as if we didn’t get one wink at all the night before.
That’s why following deep sleep with stage 4 REM sleep is so important to finishing our slumber. It concludes a full night’s rest and comes with a host of benefits:
Learning and Memory Consolidation
REM sleep is crucial for consolidating our memories and processing information, which is essentially the process of transferring memories from short-term to long-term storage. During REM sleep, the brain takes these memories and creates new connections between neurons, which helps improve memory and learning.
Studies have shown that people who are deprived of REM sleep have a harder time regulating their emotions and are more likely to experience mood swings and irritability — one more reason why that last sleep stage can’t be skipped. Research also shows that REM sleep also impacts and affects the level and intensity of emotion we attach to our memories.
Cognitive and Brain Development
Did you know that 50 percent of sleep is spent in the REM stage during infancy? This is crucial to our physical and neurological development as our bodies grow. Studies additionally show that after periods of impactful learning, REM sleep lasts longer. Those who get enough REM sleep have better concentration, focus and problem-solving abilities, and are also more creative and have better decision-making skills.
How To Improve REM Sleep
Boosting REM sleep and getting a full night’s rest is easy with a few practices put into motion:
Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle, which can improve REM sleep.
Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol can disrupt sleep, especially REM sleep. It’s best to avoid these substances, including rich foods, before bedtime.
Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
A regular nightly routine can help prepare the body and mind for sleep. This can include taking a warm bath, reading a book or practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing.
Make Your Environment Sleep-Friendly
Creating a sleep-friendly environment — including keeping the bedroom cool and dark, using comfortable bedding and minimizing noise and distractions — can help improve REM sleep.
Seek Treatment for Sleep Disorders
Sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and other sleep-related disorders can disrupt REM sleep. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, it’s essential to seek treatment.
Make Your REM Sleep Count
If you believe you’re missing out on important REM sleep or struggling with the signs of a sleep disorder, give Whitney Sleep a call. Our simple goal is enabling you to get a full, uninterrupted night’s rest every night, so you can wake every day to your best self and in your best health.
Give us a call and schedule a visit to our Plymouth or Burnsville offices for a sleep evaluation today.